Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Eyes-Free G1 --- My First Talking Android!

In the first article in this series, I'll cover the T-MobileG1 from HTC, my first accessible Android.Note: I've since moved on to the MotoRola Droid, but that is fora future article in this series.

I'll try to use a consistent outline for these articles where possible --- in general, you can expect articles covering a particular Android device have separate sections that address the hardware and software. Note that the softwware bits --- the Eyes-Free Marvin Shell and our free screenreader TalkBack, our common across all all Android devices.

The G1 Device And Eyes-Free Use

Here is a brief summary of my experience with the G1hardware:

  • The G1's keyboard is easy to use once you get used to thelayout, you can effectively touch-type with two thumbs.
  • It is possible to do many functions without having to pullout the keyboard, thanks to the track-ball and buttons on thefront panel.
  • The front panel has 5 buttons and a trackball:left-to-right, these are:Call, Home, Menu, Back, andHangup.
  • The menu button is something you will use very oftenwith Android applications. When you try out a new application,pressing menu lets you explore the application via the track-ball.
  • The track-ball takes some getting used to, it can move overmultiple items in lists if one isn't careful.
  • This was the first time I used a touch-screen, and the G1opened up many user-interface innovations.

Eyes-Free: Marvin Shell And TalkBack On G1

The Marvin Shell is my default home shell on all my Androiddevices. Note that TalkBack works fluently with the defaulthome-shell that comes with Android; however the Marvin Shell hassome nice touches that make it ideal for efficient eyes-free use--- for examples, see YouTubechannel EyesFreeAndroid.Here is a brief summary of my G1 setup, along with examples ofperforming some sample tasks. A word of caution first on whatdoesn't work yet:The browser is not yet TalkBack-enabled, and as aconsequence, browser-based applications such as GMail will notwork (yet).

  • I have option accessibility checked (see theAndroid settings menu). Within that same menu, I have TalkBack,SoundBack and KickBack enabled.
  • I also have the Eyes-Free Shell available on the AndroidMarket installed, along with the suite of Eyes-Free applicationsthat accompany it.
  • Pressing the Home button on the front panel switchesto or restarts the Eyes-Free Shell.
  • Many common actions can be performed by touch-gestures on theEyes-Free Shell, see the relevant YouTube Video.
  • You can enter Marvin's application launcher bystroking down on the home screen. Once in that launcher, you canuse the circle dialer to quickly jump to a particularapplication; you can scroll the list with the track ball. Onceyou've found an application, you the call button on thefront panel to launch the application.
  • Here is the StrokeDialer for keypad input in action. As an example, I strokeright to get a Y and that selects the YouTubeapplication. Launch it by pressing call on the frontpanel.
  • When you launch the YouTube application, TalkBacktakes over --- as the end-user, you continue to get spokenfeedback and typically are never aware of the transition.
  • Note that many Android applications use the touch screen forrapid interaction. Taking a few minutes to get oriented with thetouch controls for an application you plan to use often can make task completion more efficient. Caveat: we dont yet have an exploration widget to aid in this --- typically, I've had the user interface described to me. Notice that once you know that the YouTube UI uses a landscape orientation and that the bar for controling playback appears on the bottom, you can easily use your finger to slide along the bottom of the screen to control playback.
  • TalkBack provides fluent spoken feedback for many commontasks, such as Instant Messaging using Google Talk, or for SMSusing the built-in Messaging application.
  • Another useful Android feature to leverage is the StatusBar --- here is where applications post notifications,e.g. a missed call, or an upcoming calendar appointment.
  • You open up status bar by bringing it down--- think of it as pulling down a screen. Place your finger atthe top of the screen and stroke all the waydown.
  • You can now use the track-ball to scroll through anyavailable notifications and hear them spoken. This isparticularly useful with Google Calendar.

And of course, there is much more to say than will fit in asingle blog article.


  1. Thanks for the great post! Apart from the still missing browser accessibility and derived limitations, are there still other restrictions that especially people coming from Talks or Mobile Speak on other platforms should reckon with? What about using e-mail clients such as k9mail? It is still a bit unclear to me at what point I can safely recommend Android phones to blind users who are used to working with the above-mentioned screen readers.


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